I was born with one arm. One would think that would cause some obstacles when trying out sports or other things and trust me, it certainly makes me have to think out of the box, but it has never really stopped me. At the age of six I was competing in swimming and as a teenager, I had found my love: karate. At my peak I was training 16 hours a week as well as preparing for university. Then it all stopped.
The week I won my first medal and got called onto the National team to compete in the para category (I had been competing able-bodied until then), my surgeon told me I had to stop, cold turkey. My life as I knew it was going to change hugely. I had been diagnosed with Hypermobility Syndrome. Depending on where you are on the spectrum, this causes joints to spontaneously dislocate which meant stopping any sport and activity that could cause my joints to dislocate. I was devastated. Being a sporting person, I was suddenly banned from karate, tennis, squash, running…I had to learn and watch how my body would react to new things and have countless physio sessions.
Ten years, a few surgeries and other health issues later, including issues with my good arm, I realised I needed a dedicated sport. It was no good going to the gym, it’s too damn boring. I needed something that could keep me engaged and that I could challenge myself with but would also be good for me, or at least, not bad for me. I tried yoga last year but unfortunately that’s the worst thing a hypermobile person can do and I was laid up very quickly with joints slipping out of place.
I had tried wall climbing with a friend and enjoyed the experience, we kept going once in a while and then things clicked. I thought this might be for me. Since I have one hand and with joint issues, I tend to try a 1:1 session first to see if I can work out if something is right for me and get that dedicated attention from a coach. After a gruelling hour of trying to get up a wall (no, I didn’t manage a single one), I could see and feel that this sport had potential. My joints were stable and I could barely move at work the next day as I had used muscles that I never even knew existed. This made me realise how encompassing climbing is for the whole body. This can only be good for someone who needs her muscles to hold her joints in place.
In October 2015, I was invited to attend a para-climbing series run by the British Mountaineering Council. I wasn’t climbing regularly and was facing health issues then so I gave it a miss but I made myself a promise to start climbing more and see where this would lead me. The last seven months have been transformative, from learning to balance and jump on a wall, finding a new relationship with my body, new friends, and an amazing coach. In four weeks, I’ll be setting off to Edinburgh for the first round of this year’s series. I have finally found a sport that I love and that works for my body.
Over the next blog posts I’ll be walking you through my climbing journey, the tips I’ve picked up as a short person with one arm and how to get past the challenges that any new sport will throw at you!